As thousands of protesters stand up to big business and show their solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street movement, another movement of the same constitution is sparking momentum in Durham, NC at Duke University. In response to student activism, the office of Duke purchasing published a statement on their website that commits the university to buy conflict-free products when available, and give preference to companies that have made significant progress in freeing their supply chains of Congo’s conflict minerals. This is a huge success in the conflict-free movement that aims to bring peace to the Congo, and one that can be attributed to the power of student activism.
Earlier this week, the hope that Duke would become a leader in the movement for peace in eastern Congo was not as promising. As part of the launch of the Conflict-Free Campus Initiative, or CFCI, on Duke’s campus, the Enough Project planned to bring one of our celebrity supporters to Duke’s Countdown to Craziness basketball event to announce the CFCI initiative. We wanted to highlight what students at Duke are doing to draw attention to this cause, and to encourage Duke to stand up and speak out as a leader in the movement by passing their own conflict-free resolution.
When the Duke athletics department learned that we hoped to show a video that called on some of the top electronics companies to clean up their act—who coincidentally are also some of their biggest donors—it shut down the CFCI event. In response, Duke students organizing the event were outraged that their attempt to have an open conversation about the role we can all play to bring peace to eastern Congo, was thwarted by the desire to protect rapacious companies from embarrassment.
However, Duke University’s statement released on October 5 shows that student activism has a significant impact in this conflict-free initiative. What is happening at Duke is part of a larger movement that has formed in response to the connection between cell phones in our pockets, and the conflict in Congo that has claimed nearly 6 million lives and left hundreds of thousands of people traumatized by rape. This call for peace in eastern Congo, where war has raged for too long, is supported by over 64 college campuses across the country, including six schools that have already passed a conflict-free resolution, a city resolution in Pittsburgh, and conflict-minerals legislation at the federal and state level.
Ultimately, this movement that can be likened to what is going on in the streets of New York City, is about ushering in a new age of corporate responsibility. Electronics companies need to take responsibility for their supply chains and ensure they are not contributing to armed groups in eastern Congo. Duke University is now a leader in this conflict-free movement—thanks to the commitment of student activists—and is showing electronics companies that this issue matters to their students, to the university, and especially to the basketball team.
Photo: Former Enough Project intern and Duke University student Stefani Jones calls for a conflict-free campus (Enough Project)